A Spirited Defence of Brand Disloyalty
Thursday, 29 October 2009 14:12


It would be possible, if you wanted to and really tried, to travel around the world and eat nothing but McDonalds.  Similarly, it would be possible, if you wanted to and really tried, to travel around the world and drink nothing but Heineken.  Well, maybe not quite as easy but you could certainly drink look-alike international golden lagers in pretty much every corner of the globe.

We would tend to portray the person who eats only corporate burgers and fries as unsophisticated, a little odd and probably quite large.  However, the person who drinks nothing but – say – Heineken is seen as a loyal and informed drinker.  I simply cannot express the absurdity of this notion any better than noted beer writer and my third favourite Canadian Stephen Beaumont * who wrote:

Beer drinkers have been duped by mass marketing into the belief that it makes sense to drink only one brand of beer. In truth, brand loyalty in beer makes no more sense than 'vegetable loyalty' in food. Can you imagine it? "No thanks, I'll pass on the mashed potatoes, carrots, bread and roast beef. Me, I'm strictly a broccoli man."

The notion of brand loyalty and a generic drinking culture perhaps reached its peak in New Zealand during 1960.  In a little known chapter of our brewing history, New Zealand Breweries, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Kiwis did not want choice or local beers. What they really wanted was four slightly different beers all under the one glorious brand and that brand was to be called Lucky.

In August 1960, all their various breweries shut down production of their established products (including Speight’s) and began making their allocation of the Big Four Lucky Beers.  The intent would be that Lucky would be produced so efficiently that it would drive down the price of beer and push their rival Dominion Breweries right out of the market.

Predictably (to everyone not working for the New Zealand Breweries marketing team), drinkers around the country immediately went up in arms and the Lucky experiment was ended in October 1960 after just two ignominious months.  In terms of bad beer decisions, its short duration means it does not come close to equalling the impact of the disastrous Six O’Clock Swill but it terms of sheer stupidity it was right up there.

The only signs that remain of Lucky are some bottles and cans in the excellent Speight’s brewery tour (though you won’t see any actual brewing on it).  Speight’s must have been tempted to (mis)-quote Hon Dr Michael Cullen and put little signs like “we won, you lost, eat that” under the Lucky-branded vessels.

New Zealand drinkers these days rightly demand more choice and variety.  Heck, Richard “Spiderman” Emerson alone produces four new beers every 100 days.  Sometimes, we drink local, other days we feel like something more continental.  We might crave a cutting edge style or perhaps something a bit more traditional.

One of the classic European beers on tap at Malthouse is Chimay White.  This Trappist masterpiece is an extremely rare sight on tap in New Zealand and it is about to get a whole lot rarer.  The last keg is currently attached.  This is the last chance (for a while at least) to try this dry, spicy brew on tap.

Chimay White (8%) is a strong, unpasteurised Tripel which pours a handsome cloudy gold with a pillowed white head.  The nose is dry, hoppy and yeasty – unmistakably Belgian.  It is full bodied with hints of orange, juniper, spices and hops before a peppery, dry finish.

This is also the last week of Octoberbest – the new Malthouse tradition.  The final push sees the welcome return of Epic Armageddon, Yeastie Boys Plan K and Yeastie Boys PKB.

This blog post now comes to an end as it is time for lunch with Mr Luke Nicholas, the Impish Brewer.  In unrelated news, stocks of Armageddon IPA are about to plummet at Malthouse so Chimay White might not be the only beer on its last keg…

* After Russ the Canadian and William Shatner. **

** Glass tip to the Impish Brewer for reminding me of “Bill” Shatner which sadly saw Stephen Beaumont bumped to third.

Cheers


Beer Writer
Real Beer New Zealand
Beer and Brewer Magazine

Links

Chimay – www.chimay.be
Epic – www.epicbeer.com
Yeastie Boys – www.yeastieboys.co.nz
Malthouse Facebook Group - http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wellington/Malthouse/7084276173
Real Beer – http://www.realbeer.co.nz/blog/blog.html
Beer and Brewer Magazine - http://www.beerandbrewer.com/